Suspicions mount as a murder follows the plot of a short story which has not yet been published.
The Sincerest Form of Flattery
“Who did you kill this time?”
Alexandria’s question is pitched low, inaudible to anyone else against the whine of hair dryers. She waits for me to answer with a lock of my hair pulled between two fingers.
“Eric, my neighbour. He insists on trimming the hedges at stupid o’clock in the morning on a Saturday.” I can’t gauge her response because my glasses are on the table, she’s just a blonde blur somewhere behind me in the full length mirror, so I plough on. “Frayed wire and a puddle, he wasn’t using a circuit breaker.” She cuts ends of the hair she is holding and combs up some more. “Measuring the distances to make sure Eric was standing in the puddle when the wire crossed it was the only tricky bit.”
“That’s eight so far this year. Is that enough to make you a psychopath?” I nod and she laughs. “I should fit a tape recorder to the chair and sell you out to the police.”
“There’s a recession on, you couldn’t afford to lose the clients.” I retort. She gives my hair a playful tug, because she knows I’m right. The other girls have been losing business to her since I left a copy of my book in the salon. Women waiting for their hair to set or their dye to dry read my short stories. When they find out the guy who wrote the book gets his wash and trim from Alex, they want her to ask me to write them into a plot line.
The real mystery is not in my murder stories, but that none of them go out and buy their own copy.
“So when does Eric meet his shocking end?”
“There’s a print magazine in Australia accepting international submissions, I’ll try him in that one.” She doesn’t comment on that, the rigmarole of submitting and waiting and rejections is one she has heard from me every six weeks when I come to see her, and she still finds it incomprehensible.
Gloria breaks the silence, hurrying over and clearly bursting with a choice bit of gossip. She swings her long legs to drop into the seat beside me and leans forward, the sudden waft of perfume makes my nose twitch, but my hands are trapped under the apron. “Something terrible has happened.” She gives me a meaningful glance, “this will be right up your street.”
From her expression it can’t possibly be terrible. In fact, as Gloria’s salon is the hub of local news, ill winds tend to blow in more business. Alex stops so that Gloria can talk.
“It’s George. He’s dead. Someone killed him.”
Alex gasps, her hand falling onto my shoulder. “How did it happen?” I ask. The Superintendent’s secretary is a regular at the salon, Gloria probably knows as much as the detectives on the case.
She looks around in case anyone else is listening, even though every stylist and customer in the salon will know within an hour. It’s only a good story if she is the one that gets to tell it. “It was at the park, on the mini golf course.” Gloria leans even further forward. If I had my glasses on I would be able to look right down the front of her shirt. “His body was trapped in the windmill, and he had been shot.” Her eyes are wide, but she’s so close I can see it is excitement not fear or sorrow.
Alex’s hand spasms on my shoulder; I’m glad I’m sitting because you could have knocked me over with a hair dryer. “Mini golf?” I repeat hoping my weak smile is the right expression for a time like this.
Gloria nods. “And the weird thing is the bullet went through him and was lodged inside the windmill.”
My heart rate has just spiked up and I’m struggling for air. I grasp for another inane question to stall for a little time. “That’s weird?”
“He was packed inside the windmill, there wasn’t room for a gun in there, and there is no sign of how the bullet got in. The kids complained their golf balls wouldn’t go through, which is when the attendant found him.” She puts a hand on my arm. “If anyone can work out how it was done it’s you.”
“Trust me, I’m the last person who could figure that one out.”
Then Alexandria comes to my rescue. “He was an asshole, he deserved it.”
Gloria makes a face but doesn’t disagree. George would come in every couple of weeks to have his hair washed by one of the girls and then trimmed really close. The stylists complained about his wandering hands and the customers about his serious body odour issues. “Whatever the girls say, he tipped well,” Gloria says with a shrug. She swings back and up in one movement. “If I find out any more I’ll let you know.”
I catch a blurred smile in the mirror as Gloria walks away. “See, people are reading your stories,” Alex says brightly.
I’m suddenly conscious that she is wielding a pair of very sharp scissors around my head, but I have to know. “Alex. I didn’t submit the story to that journal. I couldn’t get the method of the murder to work. You’re the only one I told about it.”
She doesn’t say anything; she just leans forward and trims the errant hairs off my eyebrows. The snip, snip sounds very loud. She puts the scissors down and sprays my hair damp again. I start silently cataloguing the myriad different ways to kill someone in a hair salon. Why the hell didn’t I think of this as a setting before?
“Will you turn me in?” She asks at last with a heavy sigh.
I turn to look at her, genuinely perplexed. “Of course not. I want to know how you did it.”
Prompt: Mystery / Mini golf / Bullet
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2 thoughts on “The Sincerest Form of Flattery”
Ali, a great premise here, and well delivered. Coincidentally, I wrote a short piece recently about a woman who murdered her abuser, and, like George, the deceased was not mourned. This is a wonderful step-by-step that keeps a person reading and, at least from the American perspective, I think PERHAPS a little unusual with the man using a female stylist. I’m not sure on that, though. Just a gut-level thought, and, in any case, I liked the difference and felt genuine simpatico with the author (loving the dry humor that the mystery is no one is buying his novel but everyone’s gossiping about it!) and a creeping uneasiness in my system about whether he would be accused of the crime. Spectacular ending, too.
Thanks Leigh, did I miss your story or is it still to come?
I can’t be the only chap who gets his hair cut by a chep…